Russian forces blindfolded and detained the head of Europe’s largest nuclear plant, Ihor Murashov, according to Ukraine’s nuclear power provider, reigniting long-simmering fears over the plant's security.
The alleged kidnapping apparently took place shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated his war in Ukraine and pushed it into a new, dangerous phase by annexing four Ukrainian regions that Moscow fully or partially controls and heightening threats of nuclear force.
In a possible attempt to secure Moscow’s hold on the newly annexed territory, Russian forces seized the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant at around 16.00 local time on Friday, the Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom said.
It added that Russian troops stopped Murashov’s car, blindfolded him and then took him to an undisclosed location.
“His detention by (Russia) jeopardises the safety of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant,” said Energoatom President Petro Kotin, demanding the director’s immediate release.
Russia did not immediately acknowledge seizing the plant director.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said Saturday that Russia told it that “the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was temporarily detained to answer questions.”
The Vienna-based IAEA said, “in line with its nuclear safety mandate,” it “has been actively seeking clarifications and hopes for a prompt and satisfactory resolution of this matter.”
The power plant has been repeatedly caught in the crossfire of the war in Ukraine. Ukrainian technicians continued running the power station after Russian troops seized it. Its last reactor was shut down in September as a precautionary measure as constant shelling nearby damaged electric transmission lines to the plant.
The plant is a strategic trophy for Russia and has triggered worldwide concern as the only nuclear plant caught up in modern warfare. Active fighting nearby means it’s unlikely to start producing electricity again soon even if Russia installs its own management.